In her New Republic article, Josephine Livingstone explores the power that words can give a writer to reveal the intended truth on the page, and points to what happens when we fail to realize the potential of that power. Build the wrong cave, she says, and you risk the voice of the villain taking on echoes of heroism. She’s referring to this article by Richard Fausset in the New York Times in which his profile of a white supremacist was thought by many to cast a light of normalcy over him. The Times had this to say:
We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable…is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.
The writer responded as well, saying that his subject “was exceedingly candid with me — often shockingly so — but it seems as though his worldview was largely formed by the same recombinant stuff that influences our mainstream politics. There were exceptions, of course: I saw, on his bookshelf, two volumes of Helena Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine,” 19th-century work of esoteric spiritualism whose anti-Semitism influenced Nazi thinking.”
Recombinant. True. We may all be privy to the same cultural narratives and come to vastly different conclusions about it. Can failure to underline the connections we’re trying to make easily lead to someone else deliberately misconstruing the words we’ve used, thereby making fake news out of our intentions?